Why should you know about Sarcopenia?

Philip J Hehir DC

Sarcopenia (pronounced sarc-oh-peen-ee-yah) is defined as a loss of muscle mass and function as we age. Sarcopenia results in a decrease in mobility and independence, and the worse it is, the greater the risk of developing other medical conditions.

This process begins as early as our fourth-decade of life (that’s 30-39 years old). By the time we are 80, a decrease of about 30-50% in skeletal muscle mass is expected and can be considerably worse in those who are inactive or who do not load their muscles regularly.

Worldwide today, there are approximately 617 million people aged 65-years or older. By 2050, we can expect this number to increase to around 1.6 billion. Advancements in healthcare have significantly improved our life-spans, but these improvements have had limited effect on our quality of life for those additional years. The amount of sarcopenia an individual has will contribute to a poorer quality of life in those latter years. It is therefore imperative for anyone over the age of 30, (remember it starts in the fourth-decade of life), to try and limit and slow down sarcopenia so they may live more comfortable, independent lives as they age. (It is important that you should discuss this with your GP/chiropractor/physiotherapist before undergoing any new lifestyle regime.)

Simple physical exercise such as walking and doing house-chores can be beneficial, but on its own it is unlikely to slow down sarcopenia. Therefore, it is recommended that additional exercise should be undertaken.

Resistance exercises which includes using resistant bands or weights have been shown to slow down the rate of decline in muscle mass. For those new to resistance training, simply putting weighted sandbag straps around your ankles and/or wrists whilst you go for a walk can be helpful. You can also try speaking to reputable personal trainer at your local gym who can give you a programme of exercise specifically based on your needs.

Aerobic exercise which could include cycling, swimming, running or tennis has also been shown to be beneficial in maintaining muscle mass. The stimulation this has on your heart and circulation causes further blood perfusion to the muscles, giving them greater nutrition. (It is emphasised here that you should speak to a healthcare professional before undertaking any new aerobic activity).

Protein intake plays an important part in maintaining muscle mass. For example, in a 13st individual: under 20-50, a recommended intake of around 65g/day; and for older adults it is recommended 120g/day. Dietary protein particularly rich in leucine is particularly important. Nutritionists often suggest these sources including beans and pulses, Greek yoghurt, eggs and wild salmon. It is to note, that for older adults, it is not advised to take high protein supplements, simply as too much protein can be harmful to kidneys. Getting protein from your diet should be more than adequate. Speak to your GP if you have any concerns.

Limiting calorie intake can also play a role in the development of sarcopenia. Ensuring that we keep our Body Mass Index (BMI) within it’s ideal ranges is also recommended.

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